Special needs at nursery and pre-school

Girl with toy cash registerHaving a child with special needs means you're likely to get involved with the education system much earlier than you would for a child without special needs.

Every nursery and pre-school must allow children with special educational needs (SEN) to attend. They should have an SEN Policy and an Inclusion Statement, which are documents that set out their responsibilities and procedures for children with SEN.

These are good documents to ask for as a starting point.

Every nursery and pre-school must also have a Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO), also known as an Additional Needs Coordinator, who will be the big cheese as far as getting your child additional help is concerned. (If you use a childminder, the SENCO role may be shared between various childminders in a local network.) 

The SENCO should take the lead in managing your child's educational needs and, ideally, should liaise between you and the nursery staff when needed.

For some children, their nursery years are when SEN issues start to emerge. If this is the case for your child, your first point of call should be the SENCO within your nursery. Arrange to meet them and discuss your child's needs and how they can be met.

There are three stages of Early Years SEN help that your nursery or pre-school is obliged to follow:

1. Early Years Action

If your child is not meeting milestones or has SEN, staff will make an Individual Education Plan (IEP). This lists the extra support and activities that they will provide for your child and forms the basis against which your child's development is assessed.

The sort of help will depend on your child's needs. It may be:

  • One-on-one time
  • Advice from the local authority (who are in charge of education)
  • Staff training, so they can learn new strategies to help your child meet his potential

2. Early Years Action Plus

If the child is still not progressing a few months after making and following their IEP, then they may be put on to Early Years Action Plus (EYA+). This is where they get more help. The nursery may seek outside advice, from a speech and language therapist, for example, or the health service.

They may also ask for visits from the Early Years Inclusion worker from your local authority.

Early Years Action Plus is also used for children who need specialist or external help due to their disabilities, such as sensory needs (hearing or sight problems). 

3. Statutory assessment (leading to a statement of special educational needs)

The majority of children will meet their targets due to Early Years Action or Early Years Action Plus. However, if your nursery considers that your child still needs additional help or has additional needs, you may need to start thinking about getting a Statement of Special Educational Needs (also known as 'a Statement' or SEN).

The SEN is a legal document that sets out your child's special educational needs as assessed by the local authority (which used to be known as the LEA), and sets out the provision which the local authority feels is needed for your child. The aim is to ensure your child gets the right kind of help to enable him or her to progress within an educational environment.

You can apply for an SEN for your child once they're aged two or above.

Special needs nurseries

Some areas may have special needs nurseries, which will be set up with the equipment and staff trained to meet the needs of children with special needs. For example, they may run language groups, or groups for children with particular disabilities, and may use a lot of Makaton and sign language.

Whether your child needs a mainstream or a special needs nursery will depend on many factors – not least the availability of special needs nursery places and local authority funding.

What Mumsnetters say about SEN and pre-school

  • My son has moderate ASD. At nursery he has tasks with an adult (eg roll a ball back and forth, sharing, turn-taking games) and then progresses to doing these with a child. He has some structured one-to-one time (eg songs, matching cards, speech and language therapy games). He also spends some time each session doing one-to-one work with an adult, mostly working on speech and turn taking. Everything should be geared to communication, interaction and teaching play skills. grumpyoldeeyore
  • The whole point of the Inclusion worker role being developed is to get to work with the children much sooner - the key being early intervention. cat64
  • The system is so complex and obstructive that you need maximum lead-time to understand the situation with its local oddities and sort out something acceptable by the time your child is ready to start school. crimplene


Last updated: 5 months ago